Why does the Israeli occupation target journalists in the war on the Gaza Strip? What motivates it to bomb and destroy homes above the heads of journalists’ family members? What are the calculations of the Israeli occupation in uprooting the Palestinian narrative and obliterating its features? Does the Israeli policy of eradicating the Palestinian narrative seem isolated from the path the Palestinian issue is experiencing? These are some of the questions this commentary attempts to answer.
Since the first day of the war launched by Israel on the Gaza Strip, the Israeli military machine has adopted an unconventional strategy that does not operate on the principle that “the war machine is blind and those who move it are blind,” because that gives a reckless and random nature to some of the losses and victims who fall in war. Rather, over the past twenty days, this machine has been moving with systematic military strategies that originally target the Palestinian self-existence. This explains the massacres committed by Israel against Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip, and the demolition of homes on the heads of their residents even in the areas to which it asked them to move, in addition to the desecration of holy sites, religious symbols, hospitals (Al-Baptist, Al-Shifa, Al-Quds…), educational institutions, and public service facilities. Therefore, the Israeli military machine was neither blind nor blind. It targeted vital societal groups that were needed by the conditions of war and the requirements for survival, such as medical staff, paramedics, ambulance drivers, and employees working in some international relief organizations… The war machine was programmed with the desire to eliminate the means of sustaining life, and the sources of steadfastness and resilience of the Palestinians in their land and homes.
Palestinian journalists were also, since the first day of the war on the Gaza Strip, under the target of the military machine that was seizing its targets one after another, bringing their number, on the nineteenth day of the war, to 22 journalists – as Al Jazeera bureau director, Walid Al-Omari, pointed out – out of a total of 126 journalists assassinated by Israel since 1967. This number represents a large percentage, over 56 years, reaching 17.46% in just 19 days.
Politics of revenge and eradication
In this war waged by Israel on the Gaza Strip, the professional societal groups that are needed by the war conditions have systematically become targets of the military machine, and the Palestinians are punished collectively, including witnesses to the crimes and massacres committed by the occupation against these Palestinians. Here, we understand why Israel assassinates journalists? If it is unable to do so, it targets their family members by bombing homes and destroying homes on their heads with missiles, as happened to the family members of Al Jazeera’s correspondent and its bureau director in the Gaza Strip, Wael Al-Dahdouh, on October 25, 2023. This military machine assassinated his wife, son, daughter, and grandson in a house they were displaced to in the Nuseirat camp in the middle of the Gaza Strip. A report by the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate documents the Israeli occupation’s massacres against journalists and their families, and the violations suffered by media institutions, during the first week of the war on Gaza, indicating that about 20 journalists’ homes were completely or partially bombed. The occupation also bombed a number of the homes of these journalists, over the heads of their residents, without notice or warning.
If the journalist is not killed by the military machine of the occupation army, or his house is bombed and his family members are killed with missiles, he may be seriously injured, or awaited arrest, as happened to journalist Nidal Al-Wahidi, while covering the events that broke out during the storming of the Erez “Beit Hanoun” checkpoint in the northern Gaza Strip, in the context of Operation Al-Aqsa Flood. The Israeli occupation forces in the West Bank also arrested journalists Mustafa Al-Khawaja, Sabri Jaber, Abdel Nasser Al-Laham, and Moaz Amarneh. What happens to the headquarters and centers of media institutions is not excluded from the policy of systematic bombing. 50 headquarters and media centers were destroyed. This is part of the history of the Israeli occupation in dealing with journalists and media institutions, whether during periods of war or outside of it. Here, the journalistic community remembers the assassination of Al Jazeera correspondent, Sherine Abu Aqla, on May 11, 2022, which revealed the circumstances of monitoring and surveillance surrounding the occupation’s assassination of a journalist while carrying out her media activity. Journalists also remember the occupation forces’ assault on Al Jazeera’s correspondent, Guevara Al-Badiri, and her arrest in occupied Jerusalem for hours, in June 2021, while she was covering demonstrations in solidarity with the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood on the 54th anniversary of the setback.
The course of the war on the Gaza Strip and its objectives – as declared by the Israeli occupation itself, which seeks to wipe out resistance movements – indicate that assassinating journalists, destroying their homes or arresting them, or killing members of their families by bombing their homes, is no longer aimed at intimidation, deterrence, and deterrence only, as was happening in previous wars (2008-2009, 2012, 2014, 2021). There has been a qualitative shift in the occupation’s policy targeting journalists, and it is inseparable from its strategic policies towards the Palestinian issue and what is happening today in the war on the Gaza Strip. There is a tendency to liquidate this issue. This is what the occupation policies on the ground indicate through the expansion of settlements, the rapid Judaization of Jerusalem, and the expansionist tendency revealed by the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, during the 78th session of the United Nations, when he highlighted a map of the Middle East that does not show the Palestinian territories. Therefore, the assassination of a journalist’s family members, as happened to our colleague Wael Al-Dahdouh, is not intended to cause him to enter into a spiral of grief that consumes his feelings and distances him from his professional activity, or forces him to withdraw and isolate himself from the profession. Rather, the occupation is also trying to uproot witness journalists from the battlefield just as it is uprooting medical teams, paramedics, and workers in international relief organizations, and demolishing religious symbols and sanctities and everything that constitutes the Palestinian identity.
The large number of journalists targeted by the Israeli war machine to date (22 journalists, 17.46%) represents an indication that the Israeli occupation has exceeded its policy of intimidation, deterrence, and deterrence. It no longer cares about that, but rather takes revenge on all segments of Palestinian society and exposes them to collective punishment. The journalistic community is a more sought-after target in Israeli occupation policies. It is exposed to various forms of revenge, massacres and violations, which Wael Al-Dahdouh also pointed out: “They take revenge on us on the children” after the occupation bombed the house in which his family members were staying and destroyed it above their heads.
These crimes are escalating in light of the green light that the Israeli occupation received from the Western powers that declared their absolute support for its narrative and policy, and gave it the international legitimacy it needs. These forces were not satisfied with declaring their political support for the occupation, but went beyond justifying its war actions against the Palestinians. Some of them participated in planning, implementing and supplying the Israeli army with weapons, money and information, and defended its crimes in international organizations and forums. Therefore, these forces do not see the time as appropriate for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. Because Israel “still has work to do.” This only means acts of genocide and cleansing against the Palestinians and eradicating their presence from the map.
Symbolic battle accounts
During the war on the Gaza Strip, the importance of news coverage of the massacres committed by the Israeli occupation against Palestinian civilians and the collective punishment operations of Palestinian society became apparent. Al Jazeera News Channel, through its network of correspondents (Wael Al-Dahdouh and other journalists working in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank), was a witness to these Israeli massacres and crimes. This is something that the occupation takes into account, which also realizes the importance of the story that journalists transmit from among the rubble of the homes that were targeted by the bombing and that claimed the lives of children, women, and those who were safe in places where they were asked to seek refuge. They also report the atrocities of the occupation from inside hospitals that are being bombed, places of worship, educational institutions, and the headquarters of international organizations, and from all parts of the Palestinian geography that are targeted by the bombing. Therefore, in its policies, the occupation takes into account this narrative, which influences Arab and international public opinion, especially since Al Jazeera’s content has on many occasions constituted a document to track the occupation’s crimes and violations against Palestinian citizens, and it tries to obscure and uproot it by killing journalists and genocide their family members.
The occupation realizes the importance of this narrative that exposes its crimes, and sees it as a threat to its purification policies. Therefore, it does not hesitate to fight it with its military machine by assassinating the witnesses transmitting this narrative in audio and video. It is betting on winning the symbolic war that allows it to obscure the Palestinian narrative and target the means that help its spread. At the same time, it works to win the “battle of the story” as the occupation sees it, which strips the Palestinians of their humanity and turns them into mere “human animals” who do not deserve to live like other humans. Therefore, betting on “winning the battle of the story” is no less important in the eyes of the Israeli occupation than winning the “battle of the land” in the war it is waging against the Gaza Strip. For this reason, we understand why the Israeli and Western media have focused from day one on demonizing the Islamic Resurrection Movement (Hamas), and we understand the eagerness of that propaganda machine to compromise between the resistance movements and the “Islamic State” (ISIS). There has been a call by some European countries to establish a regional and international coalition to combat Hamas, or to expand the scope of the work of the international coalition that was established in 2014 to confront ISIS under the auspices of the United States. This path shows the importance of the symbolic war from the Israeli perspective in the context of the war on the Gaza Strip, so it undertakes diplomatic and military mobilization in order to win the “battle of the story” before the “battle of the land.”
The Israeli occupation is aware of the importance of the narrative conveyed by Al Jazeera and other satellite news channels in influencing international public opinion, which it takes into account and takes into account in the developments in the course of the war it is waging in the Gaza Strip. Therefore, the occupation does not hesitate to target journalists who are witnesses to the crimes and massacres it commits against Palestinian civilians and all means and sources of life and the components of the steadfastness of Palestinian society. In doing so, it works to uproot the Palestinian narrative, obliterate its features, and attempt to erase the traces of the methods used by this narrative. That is why it bombs and destroys the headquarters and centers of media institutions, and if it is unable to assassinate witnesses, it quickly approaches their family members and destroys homes over the heads of their residents. This is one of the episodes of liquidating the Palestinian issue. Will the Israeli occupation always remain outside international law and not be held accountable for the crimes and massacres it commits against the Palestinians who seek freedom and liberation from the yoke of occupation and the establishment of their independent state?
About the author
Muhammad Al-Raji is a researcher at the Al Jazeera Center for Studies. He supervises the Media Studies Program and holds the responsibility of managing editor of the Al Jazeera Journal for Communication and Media Studies. He holds a doctorate degree in media. His research interests focus on media and communication, their cognitive, cultural and social impact, and critical analysis of media discourse. Among his most important research works are editing the book: “The Environment of Arab Electronic Journalism: Contexts of Development and Its Challenges,” and “The Power of Social Media: Its Effects on the Traditional Media System and the Political Environment,” and chapters in some books, such as: “Al Jazeera in Twenty Years: Its Impact on Media and Politics.” “Academia,” and “Islamic State: Origins, Influence, and Future.”